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Do you have a caffeine allergy?

24 Aug 2021 • 2 min read

A cup of morning coffee is a part of many people’s routines.

Caffeine, the natural drug contained in coffee stimulates the nervous system to help you feel more awake and ready to take on the day ahead.

But what happens if you’re allergic to it? How can caffeine sensitivity affect the body?

In this article, we’ll cover these questions, and more to look at the negative impact that caffeine can have on your body if you’re faced with an allergy to it.

What is caffeine?

Caffeine is a chemical found in coffee, tea, cola and many other products.

Most commonly, it's used to improve your mental alertness, however you may also find it in aspirin and other painkillers.

Does your body need caffeine?

There is no nutritional need for caffeine and it can be avoided in the diet.

Caffeine does not get passed into the bloodstream and it does not get stored in the body.

Instead, it gets absorbed into the brain to stimulate alertness in the body before leaving through urine many hours later.1

Caffeine sensitivity - what is it?

Drinking caffeine is safe for most people, but there are many that experience a caffeine intolerance or allergy which can have side effects that have an impact on health.

Caffeine is a natural stimulant that affects the brain and central nervous system.

It makes you feel more alert, focused and productive, which is why it’s a popular drink in the mornings and in the office.

It’s considered that most people can drink up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, which is the equivalent of around four cups of coffee.

What are the symptoms of caffeine intolerance?

People who are sensitive to caffeine or those who have a caffeine intolerance can experience side effects, such as:2

  • Quicker heartbeat
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling jittery
  • Headaches
  • Loss of sleep
  • Stomach upset

It is thought that not everyone who experiences these symptoms have an allergy to caffeine, but it could be a non-allergic intolerance to caffeine.

In fact, caffeine allergies are rare and symptoms are considered more serious than above.

What is a caffeine allergy?

In severe cases, caffeine allergy can be quite serious and lead to some uncomfortable side effects.

Much different to caffeine intolerance, caffeine allergy symptoms include:3

  • Hives: many itchy red bumps and blotches
  • Swollen lips and tongue
  • Itchy mouth, lips and tongue

It is likely that if you have a caffeine allergy that you could possibly experience these symptoms within an hour of consuming coffee.

In some rare, extreme cases people can experience anaphylactic shock through caffeine allergy.4

The symptoms of an anaphylactic shock may include:

  • Severe swelling of the face, eyes, lips, face and tongue
  • Difficulty breathing due to swelling
  • A change in speech
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Nausea, abdominal pain, or vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dizziness

Can you develop a caffeine sensitivity?

It’s thought that there is a variety of reasons that you might be sensitive to caffeine, although none of them particularly point to it being something you can develop.

It is thought that genetics, your liver’s ability to metabolise caffeine are the main factors behind it.

However, it is possible that your immune system can mistaken caffeine for something harmful and will fight it off with antibodies.

If you think you are sensitive to caffeine, then it might be best to cut down on your intake and speak to a health professional if you become concerned.

3 ways to manage a caffeine allergy/intolerance? 

While many allergies and intolerances can’t necessarily be stopped, it is possible for them to be treated. Those treatments include:

  1. Antihistamines

If you or someone you know experiences a reaction to caffeine then over-the-counter antihistamines may help reduce itching, swelling or hives.5

In the rare case that a caffeine allergy causes an anaphylactic shock, this is then treated with an epinephrine injection. People with severe allergies often carry a special pen in the event of these situations.

If a person is showing signs of anaphylactic shock, contact the emergency services immediately.

  1. Prevention

If you have a caffeine allergy or an intolerance to caffeine, the best advice is to avoid consuming anything that contains caffeine.

 This includes:

  • Coffee (even decaffeinated coffee may contain caffeine)
  • Tea
  • Energy drinks
  • Chocolate
  • Frozen desserts
  • Soft drinks
  • Certain medication

It is best practice to check labels beforehand to ensure you avoid caffeine where possible.

If you rely on a caffeine boost for energy, then you may way to try looking at more natural ways to get energy. These include:6

  • Increasing physical activity

Jog, walk, run, cycle or take part in a workout class for around 20 minutes per day to increase your energy levels.

  • Get plenty of sleep

Sleeping for less than seven hours a night can cause morning fatigue. It can be a good idea to get a regular sleeping pattern of around eight hours a night.

  • Take vitamin supplements

Some vitamins can help boost your energy naturally. Speak to a H&B in our store or online to find out what might be best for your lifestyle.

  1. Find new ways to stay alert

As you’d normally use caffeine to stay alert and awake, you may need to find new ways to occupy your mind from switching off.

The following may help:7

  • Take regular screen breaks
  • Get out for a walk at lunchtime
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Make sure you get enough sleep
  • Eat a healthy, well balanced diet

Handpicked content: The expert guide to energy

How do you get rid of caffeine sensitivity?

Firstly, it’s best to get a proper diagnosis from a health professional.

Secondly, you should avoid caffeine and products that contain caffeine. This may improve your symptoms.

However, this can trigger withdrawal symptoms such as:8

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Shakiness

These should subside within a week, if they last any longer you should consider contacting your GP.

The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Last updated: 24 August 2021



Author: Bhupesh PanchalSenior Regulatory Affairs Associate

Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019

Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry

Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.

After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.

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